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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Do We Have a Dog in the Fight in Syria?

Since the Syrian conflict began two and a half years ago, 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed, 1.8 million have fled the country and living in refugee camps in Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan, another 6.8 million are in need of humanitarian support, 4.5 million have lost their homes, and now there is apparently evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. For humanitarian reasons alone, the situation is dire. Then there are the strategic concerns: Iran and Hezbollah, which are providing aid to Syria and not on friendly terms with the U.S., would probably suffer if Assad were to fall. But there's no guarantee that the forces that are currently opposing Assad would be any better. All of which begs the question as to whether the US should intervene. Does it, so to speak, have a dog in this fight? That is the subject of a Intelligence Squared US debate held in early August ("The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria"). Here's the summary of the debate from the Intelligence Squared US website:

There are certain international crises that on their face demand the immediate and urgent attention of presidents. We all know them when we see them -- and so does the man in the White House. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait comes to mind -- an easy call. But there are other situations where the call may be tougher to make. Bosnia got a president's attention; Rwanda did not. And what about Syria -- now in the midst of a civil war and humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Certainly there are U.S. interests at stake, but are they vital interests? And what of President Obama's response so far: it has been deliberately limited, but should he go further, and with what sorts of options? Military intervention? Something else? Something less? One thing is certain: Syria is not one of those easy calls. It's what we're debating in Aspen, when we take on the topic: The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria.
Arguing on behalf of the motion (i.e., against US intervention in Syria) are Richard Falkenrath (Principal, The Chertoff Group & Former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor) and Graham Allison (Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans). Arguing against the motion (i.e., in favor of US intervention in Syria are R. Nicholas Burns (Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) and Sir Nigel Sheinwald (Former British Ambassador to the U.S.)

As with all Intelligence Squared debates, the audience votes both before and after the debate, and the team that changes the most minds wins, which means a team can win a debate without winning a majority of votes. For example, if prior to a debate, 65% of the audience supported the motion, 14% opposed it, and 21% were undecided and after the debate, 65% supported the motion, 28% opposed it, and 7% were undecided, then the team arguing against the motion would be the winners because their share of the votes increased 14% points, while the other team's share didn't increase at all. You can listen to the debate, as well as access transcripts of it, at the Intelligence Squared website  ("The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria"). It can also be downloaded from iTunes.

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